The following question came to us and opens the door to exploration of communication techniques that prevent issues on projects….
As an enterprise BA, I inquire and engage team members to determine the thoughts behind the project (not just elicit requirements, etc.). In a contract I head with a NY firm, project meetings included those who have worked between IT and business. To address a problem or issue, key members would initiate BA or PM activities based on their perception. Through a side discussion or contact, I would discover that they do not have the understanding of the issue. (Grabbing a cup of coffee and asking ‘what keeps you up at night’ or ‘what are your recent accomplishments’ can reveal an amazing amount of information!) As to the project, usually time and money was wasted. My question is how to prevent these project scenarios and avoid mishaps. What do you think? I look forward to your input.
The reader exposes a common problem by illustrating a situation in which issues are uncovered in the midst of a project. Is there a way to overcome project issues before they start? Not always, but there is a way to prevent many of them that revolve around comprehension or confusion.
In fact the reader is already alluding to the best way to get a handle on these hidden monsters….Just Ask! Having pointed conversation in which the analyst directly reaches out to a stakeholder is one of the best ways to elicit concerns and issues that the individual might not be comfortable discussing in a group forum. Once out of the group, there is a problem that these stakeholder concerns might still not be uncovered, because some people don’t want to viewed as “not smart enough to comprehend what’s going on”. By asking, the analyst is implicitly stating that there is a desire to ensure that there is an inclusive environment for the purpose of comprehension on the project.
Additionally, there are, of course, different ways to ask a question. Turning the tables and asking individuals to help you as an analyst with a point of confusion is an excellent way to empower others to help you get answers. In doing so, you enable the stakeholder to actively teach you their knowledge. This will in turn help he or she learn what is perceived as confusion OR it will uncover items that need further collaboration in order to understand.
Good Old Fashioned Relationship Building
No matter the approach in asking questions, remember that by doing so as an analyst, you are building a relationship with the stakeholder through engagement and concern for their success on the project. Try taking this a step further and begin to build the relationship by just asking about the things that might be important to the individual, e.g., “How’s your wife?”, “I heard your son is on his way to college; what’s his major?”, “You mentioned last month that your father was ill; how is he doing?” These are all questions that are personal, yet generic enough to allow people to engage with one another on a level outside of work. They speak to the creation and maintenance of long-term trust relationships, and they pay dividends in the workplace. Why? Because caring enough to ask about these types of things shows that you care about the individual. Hence, you are much more likely to be concerned about his or her success on the project. Try it out! You might even snag a new friend in the process.
A completely different approach, which is really just Standard Operating Procedures for an analyst, is to ensure that ALL pertinent stakeholders are present in early discussions. Maximum inclusion in kickoff meetings may draw people in that don’t need to be part of the project, but it also does a couple of other things. First, it allows those individuals to size up the project scope, determine whether or not there is direct impact and HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY to vocalize that there is none/some. Second, it provides the ability for these individuals to opt out while indicating that a more appropriate person should be included. As we all know, having proper and all stakeholders on a project is a key to understanding issues early and completely. Getting the right people in place is critical to making this happen.
Finally, you as an analyst can use common observation of business or project environments to observe daily processes. This helps to enlighten the analyst as to what is really occurring and to formulate questions that are used as prompts for elicitation of conversation. Often, it is this type of conversation that produces inquiries that lead to issues and their clarification by forcing people involved to think through their own answers.
How would you answer this reader’s question?